“If I make a mistake early on, I approach it with a mindset of ‘I absolutely can’t let this happen again.'” Interview with Korean skater Wi Seoyeong

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Translation of an article and interview with Korean skater Wi Seoyeong.

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source: mfocus.kr dd. 18th August 2018 by Jimin Park

When asked to describe herself with keywords, Wi Seoyeong first mentioned the phrase. It holds an ambiguous meaning, encompassing “a person who skates on ice” and “being perceived as cold when staying still.” She has received offers from idol agencies to street casting. However, when referring to her juniors as “our team’s babies,” Wi Seoyeong’s gaze is nothing but gentle.

“I’ve been saying I wanted to do it since I was 4 years old. When I was 4, my mom took me to the rink, but there weren’t skates that fit me then. So they told me to come back next year. I kept talking about it, and that’s how I started when I was 6.”

She was a proactive child. Persistent and determined. Wi Seoyeong was quite different from the toddlers who easily get engrossed in new interests. Whether it was pestering her mom to start figure skating or opening a new chapter in her athletic journey, it was all initiated by Wi Seoyeong herself. She waited for two years for the right skates, eventually donning her first pair of white skating boots. Rather than dreaming of becoming a professional athlete, Wi Seoyeong put on those boots at the age of 6 at the Hwaseong U&I Center, driven by the enjoyment of figure skating itself. After moving to the Gwacheon indoor ice rink at the age of 12, she has been with coach Hyungkyung Choi ever since.

“I told my mom that I wanted to move to Gwacheon. I had been practicing double axel since I was 10, but I couldn’t land it for 2 years. The previous environment was like being a frog in a well. There was nothing to see, and when we were in a small place, we didn’t know anything. After moving to Gwacheon, I felt it. Ah, I was nothing before. It was like a new world had opened up.”

At the Gwacheon indoor ice rink, there was a strict curriculum that even adults would find challenging to keep up with. In the small world of interacting solely with her coach, the journey of a ‘skater’ began, seeking detailed instruction for each element. The driving force that enabled her to withstand the high-intensity training carried out morning and evening was the presence of peers who were also competing. The friendly competition with elite peers she met in the new system served as effective motivation for the young athlete.

“At first, it was really tough. The system was so different, but I managed to endure it. There were only four kids of my age, including me, so there was competition. One or two kids landed the double axel first, and then I succeeded. Maybe because it took me a long time to land the double axel, I actually progressed faster in the next triple jump.”

Landing the double axel took two years, but after that, everything progressed rapidly. In the 2017/2018 season, Wi Seoyeong claimed victory at the domestic junior championships, and the following year, she secured two spots at the International Skating Union (ISU) Junior Grand Prix selection event by finishing fourth. Alongside her peer Haein Lee, she was dubbed the ‘Yuna Kids 2nd Generation’ and made her debut in the 2018 ISU Junior Grand Prix series, finishing in fourth place.

“Originally, I didn’t know anything. So, I went to practice without any thoughts, and I did well in both practice and the short program. I wasn’t nervous at all during the short program. I got fourth place. So, I thought, ‘Wow!’ But then in the free program, I lost control completely. I fell, cried…

The seventh competition was not good for me in both the short and free programs. I must have made two mistakes at that time. But making more than one mistake is unacceptable. I did well in practice, but during the actual competition, I couldn’t perform as I did in practice and made mistakes. If I hadn’t practiced well from the start, I wouldn’t have had any expectations. But since I practiced well and then couldn’t perform as expected in the competition, it leaves me with regret. So, if I make a mistake early on, I approach it with a mindset of ‘I absolutely can’t let this happen again.'”

Holding onto this principle until now, Wi Seoyeong took great pride. Effort soon bore fruit. The following year, she finally clinched a silver medal at the ISU Junior Grand Prix 1st event in France. With clean performances in both the short program and free skating, she confidently stepped onto the podium. However, there were hidden struggles as well. Her skate boot had broken just before the competition.

“It happened to be during the first official practice. I came out crying, and the next morning, I taped up my skate and skated with it. So, the short program wasn’t bad, but in the free program, during the spin and going into the lutz, my leg was trembling too much. ‘I can’t do it, what should I do? I can’t give up either…’.”

However, Wi Seoyeong didn’t give up. Contrary to her concerns, she set a new personal best score with a flawless performance in the free skating and overall score at the time. Overcoming the crisis and achieving a more precious victory, there was also a somewhat comical incident during the award ceremony. Due to the hasty decision of the organizers, the South Korean flag was raised upside down.

“The Russian skaters were before and after me. Valieva had taken first place, and while the skater after me, Maia Khromykh, was competing, they hung the South Korean flag in the third-place position. However, I ended up in second place overall. Suddenly, they had to switch the flag’s position. That’s why the South Korean flag was raised upside down like that.”

In the fifth competition, where she happily secured a silver medal, Wi Seoyeong continued with a clean performance without major mistakes. As the competition was part of the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final qualification, there were higher expectations for the results. However, she ended up in fourth place. Despite finishing without major mistakes, her score was more than 10 points lower than the previous competition. Wi Seoyeong left behind self-reflection rather than disappointment about the judging at the time.

“I didn’t even think about the Final. After seeing the scores in the short program, I thought, ‘Oh, they probably won’t give me many points.’ I was disappointed with the placement. I keep getting fourth place, it’s frustrating. I just need to move up one spot. I was more disappointed about getting fourth place than missing the Final.”

In December 2019, a slump hit Wi Seoyeong. Only four months had passed since she won the dream-like Junior Grand Prix silver medal. The cause was unknown. Even her breathing felt unnatural, and she couldn’t handle the entire program, leading to a rapid decline in her stamina. These symptoms magically disappeared after the January National Championships, but she shed tears consistently in the lead-up to the national team’s first selection event.

“Before a ranking competition, we had a team practice session in Gimhae. It was from that practice that suddenly nothing was working. Jumps, and suddenly even my breathing was constricted. I thought, ‘Maybe my condition isn’t great today.’ But the next day, and all the way up to the competition, it continued. It was really tough. On the day of the competition, I couldn’t even manage it; I cried a lot. You know, even breathing wasn’t coming naturally. It was truly like that. I thought I could manage the short program to some extent, but the free skate felt exactly like that. I didn’t know when or how to breathe. So, I kept telling myself, ‘Push through, you have to go all the way!’.”

In September 2022, at the Challenger Series Nebelhorn Trophy, Wi Seoyeong secured her first senior medal around her neck. Overcoming the influence of a looming flu, she delivered a flawless ‘clean’ performance, setting a new personal best score for the free skate. Even during the height of summer, she diligently trained, achieving her best results while battling the fever.

“I wasn’t extremely nervous for the Nebelhorn Trophy because I felt well-prepared and had confidence that I could do it. Since I was already in Jincheon and went directly to the competition, I was a bit better prepared. I continued to perform cleanly, so I felt like I could do well. Since I hadn’t made any mistakes, I approached the short program with more confidence. However, I wasn’t feeling well during the free skate. I had been feeling a bit under the weather since the previous day. It got worse. I had a headache, a stuffy nose, and a slight fever. I was in so much discomfort that I rested and, on the next day, I bought some cold medicine locally and competed in a somewhat sluggish state.”

She managed to overcome the flu, but successive infections followed, leaving her defenseless. With her immune system weakened by the flu, she also contracted COVID-19. Prior to the ISU Senior Grand Prix NHK Trophy, her second international competition of the season, she had to enter self-isolation. Having just competed satisfactorily in the previous event, it was even more disappointing to face another competition in a weakened state.

“Truth be told, when I came back from Germany, I thought I had contracted COVID-19. However, the PCR test turned out negative. Even though the hospital said it was the flu and I took flu medicine, I didn’t get better for a week. I thought, ‘Why not just try it?’ and did a COVID-19 self-test, and that’s when two lines appeared.

So, I ended up resting for another week. I didn’t feel sick during the flu or the COVID-19, but the aftereffects were quite severe. My basic strength was plummeting, and it didn’t really bounce back. That’s how it was until the NHK Trophy. I had a feeling that something was wrong with my body. I felt a continuous drain of energy.”

With a voice filled with determination echoing in the Japanese mixed zone, Wi Seoyeong gradually grew stronger. In the December President’s Cup ranking competition, she secured the 4th position in the free skating, and in the January National Figure Skating Championships, she fiercely defended her spot on the national team. This marked an impressive record of five consecutive seasons. Continuing her success, she broke through the 200-point barrier for the first time in her life at the 104th National Winter Sports Festival.

“If I were to give myself a score for the past season, it would be 60 points. It started off well, but there were some rough patches in the middle, you know. My goals were to surpass 200 points and compete in international championships. While I didn’t achieve everything, I can say I crossed the 200-point mark, at least halfway there. And towards the end, things went well, so it’s like 30 points for the first part and 30 points for the end. I’d give myself 60 points.”

During this off-season, Wi Seoyeong kept herself extremely busy, hardly finding a moment of rest. As a diligent third-year high school student, she not only attends school but also dedicates herself to training. Moreover, during the latter half of the year when the winter sports season, including figure skating, is in full swing, she juggles all of this alongside university entrance exams. The interview dates even clashed with her initially planned competition schedule, leading her to adjust it.

“In April, I went to Canada and returned, and in May, I took a month-long break from Taereung training to go to school every day. Being a third-year high school student I can’t avoid being marked late or absent, even if I train. I would take two training sessions in the morning and then head to school, trying my best to attend all the classes, even if I couldn’t catch them all. Thanks to that, I became close with my classmates.”

“In June, I trained at the Jincheon National Training Center. I’ve always liked it there. Firstly, my training location and my home are quite far apart, so even if training ends early, it doesn’t really feel like it’s over. Normally, if I finish at 4 PM, by the time I get home, it’s around 6 PM, so it feels like it’s still ongoing. Also, in the morning, if I have to commute, I need to leave even earlier. In Jincheon, if training ends at 4 PM, it really ends at 4 PM without any travel time. Moreover, even though I have to wake up early in the morning, since there’s no commuting, I can rest a bit and then head out. It’s a system where I focus solely on training, which I really like. And the weightlifting gym is great. All the equipment is new, the facilities are abundant, and it’s comfortable. Also, there’s a medical room. If you’re not feeling well, you can go right there.

Wi Seoyeong is diligently preparing for the Grand Prix series through intensive training and the Jincheon training camp. Prior to that, in October, she opens the season with the ISU Challenger Series Finlandia Trophy. For the short program, she’s using the “Pride and Prejudice” OST from the previous season and is focusing on improving its completion. As for the free program, during the intensive training in Canada last April, she collaborated with choreographer Jeffrey Buttle. The music is “Exogenesis: Symphony” by the British rock band Muse. She combined Part III, which she personally chose, with Part I recommended by the choreographer to complete the piece.

“I initially asked Junhyung (actor Lee Junwoo) to choreograph for me. Junhyung is good at it. My mom likes Junhyung’s choreography, and because going all the way to Canada was also a burden, I contacted him first. However, at that time, he was quite busy with musicals, so the timing didn’t work out.

Before going to Canada, I was really nervous. I was worried about how to explain in detail what I wanted in English. But when I actually met the choreographer, he made me feel comfortable, and he designed the choreography smoothly without any major difficulties. The music and the choreography have a lot of detail. He paid a lot of attention to the musical details. The movements match precisely with certain parts of the music, like spins aligning with the music. Even in the steps, he specified where my hands should be based on specific parts of the music. There are these detailed points.”

In 2013, a young skater named Wi Seoyeong watched with excitement as her idol Kim Yuna competed in the National Championships. Now, after four years she claimed the title of a ‘national representative’ for five consecutive seasons, she has become a caring senior who doesn’t hesitate to offer advice to the younger skaters she shares the ice with. Her dream is to be a role model for her younger skaters and juniors, someone who cares for others and puts them before herself – a consistent sentiment that matches her personality.

To others, she may appear affectionate, but when it comes to herself, she cannot tolerate even the smallest mistakes. Her goal for the new season is also to ‘show what she has been doing.’ This clear and distinct objective seems to be one of her strong driving forces.

Wi Seoyeong, seemingly as cold as ice but warm like spring sunshine. We wish that her year ahead is filled with love and joy.


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